London above; London below.
London is a city with multiple personalities. She oscillates between grandeur and deprivation. Ancient nestles alongside modern. Density contrasts with space. But nowhere is the difference more noticeable than between street-level London and subterranean London.
The anonymity of the city is somehow intensified, magnified, by the tube. It's not even another world: it is several million private universes. The only sense of cohesion comes from wanting, needing, to be in a different place. A thousand strangers squeeze and crush and lean and fight and inhale and sigh, moving between one point and another, before spilling outwards, like an overflowing vessel, like a blossoming flower. In that heaving throng there is a cacophony of silence; each and every one of us cocoons ourselves. We barricade ourselves behind walls of sound; we erect paper defences of books, magazines, and newspapers; conversation is limited to perfunctory requests to move down inside the cars.
There is a ritualised solitude to the underground, punctuated by station announcements to which you pay no attention.
As I pass through London's subterranean passages of conjoined tunnels I travel beneath what used to be my home. Our home. I'll stop at what used to be my station. Instead of gathering together my belongings and sliding beneath someone's arm to scamper out of the door and mind the gap, I shall continue to read my book, to hum to my iPod, to ignore the person sitting next to me. Because that was then, when I used to live another life.
My other life, where he used to be waiting for me. My other life, with its conventional beginning, its conventional middle, and its conventional ending. My other life, in another part of the city, separated by time and space and stops along the line. My other life, compartmentalised from this one, like carriages on the train.
Some days, when my fortifying cloak of defensive media slips a touch, I will be exposed to the words of the station announcement. Some days, the timing will be wrong. Some days, I will be vulnerable. It doesn't matter how strong I was yesterday, or how strong I will be tomorrow, for that instant I am crippled by the slicing tones of the female voice announcing somewhere that used to be a part of my life. Sotto voce, I remind myself that this is not my stop. That I do not walk up the steps here. That I must pass by. I am reminded of what I used to be, and am no more.